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night ash, phoenix fire

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Clang.

Wine glasses click. Golden speckles of crystal chandeliers dangling from the ballroom ceiling dapple down, bouncing off the glistening rims. The sound is a sharp slice, splitting in half the faint music, the white noise of chatters, and the fuzzy laughter waltzing in the air before piercing Tobio’s ears. He twitches, his weight shifting to his other leg uncomfortably. 

He always hates social events, especially a royal one. All the talk, the murmuring, and the side-eyes brewing behind his back make his skin crawl under the fine silk of clothes he’s wearing. They make his posture seem oddly stiff; his hair, though neatly styled by Yachi, seem tousled; and his fingers holding the delicate glass seem clumsy, awkward, and out of place. They make him feel like he could smear soot all over the expensive crystalware, like he could crush it down to a thousand pieces. 

Like he doesn’t belong here - belongs to the royalty, the posh boots, and the sophisticated jewelry.

Agreeably, Tobio doesn’t. 

He can never get used to this world no matter how much he tries, can never put on a fake smile or say meaningless compliments for the purpose of diplomacy. He’s fine with the notion, because Tobio knows that rather than being in a well-lit ballroom, he prefers the dim forge; rather than hearing the mellow tunes, he prefers the sizzling sound of burning metal meeting water; rather than wearing fine clothes, he prefers coarse wool with grease all over. 

But titles wise, he does: The commoner consort of the illegitimate prince. 

There has been a lot of talk about their union, more than necessary for a legitimate wedding arranged by the Queen. Her motive was blatant: to hamper her stepson’s way toward the crown. Marrying a commoner means that prince Hinata Shouyou is unlikely to receive approval from the high-ranking families to become King. And a male consort at that, which will only further taint his reputation. Not that the prince had any good reputation prior to this union anyway, being a maid’s child, the king’s bastard son. 

It’s comical - their marriage - for how “fitting” they are together: a common blacksmith and an outcast in the royal family. 

To Tobio, however, his spouse is never anything less than a legitimate prince of all the well-deserved titles and respect from his family and people. Tobio looks from across the room, peering through the stream of people to the man with fiery red hair and familiar blinding smile. To his prince who stands tall, polite expression remains unfazed despite being looked down on by the diplomats of the neighboring country whom he’s talking to. 

Something sour ascends from the pit of Tobio’s stomach, brimming inside his throat and threatening to crawl out. He jolts the drink up and gulps down a large sip of milk to avoid causing a scene, though the glass is still fogged up from the heavy breath he expels out from his nose by accident.

It’s anger and frustration, not for himself, but on behalf of the prince. Tobio has seen prince Hinata Shouyou work hard just like his brothers and sisters, if not more so. The sciences and arts of diplomacy, different languages, military training, and ruling duties, his prince excels in them all. Tobio believes a part of him is a natural leader, but the major reason for his brilliance stems from countless sleepless nights of burying his head in books until his candles die; or staying back late on the field to practice his horsemanship until past dusk and dinner time.

Tobio also practices ways of dealing with the prince’s stubbornness to rest on time. He goes to sleep early, and at the creaks of their bed at early dawn, he waits for the prince to completely slump down on the mattress with even breaths before opening his eyes. Then, gingerly, Tobio hauls his prince inside his chest and massages the sore muscles, hearing his spouse’s content hums in sleep until the maids knock on their door, signifying another new day. 

It’s the least Tobio could do after the prince’s great kindness of granting him his own forge inside the castle, making him feel less of a commodity or a mere piece of decoration, and more of a blacksmith, a human

The forge, Tobio recalls, was where he first met his prince when they were only around 12, a flash of bright orange among other royal family members. He also remembers being so curious as to why this person didn’t get to choose his own sword like his siblings did that Tobio followed him to the back of Tobio’s grandfather’s forge. He sat on the stairs, a few steps away from the prince. 

“You’re not supposed to be back here,” Tobio said.

The young prince threw him a glare, scrunching his nose up like the stubborn kid that he was. “I can do whatever and be wherever I want.” 

“Oh,” Tobio simply said. Then, he added. “It’s hot.” 

“What’s hot?” The prince bit back.

Tobio tilted his head at the large hearth bellowing fire nearby that his grandfather busied himself in every day. “That thing.”

The prince flicked a look aside before returning to Tobio, his anger seemed to die down as he nodded and uttered unintelligibly. “It is.” And as to confirm the heat, the prince wiped away the sweat collecting under his fringe with his sleeve, a tad inappropriate for a royal if Tobio was honest. “Is that why you told me that I wasn’t supposed to be back here? Not because you think I’m… dirty?”

Dirty? Tobio’s eyes flitted between the prince’s fine silk and his own shirt covered in soot from helping his grandfather forge a sword earlier. If there was someone dirty here, then it would be Tobio. So he pulled his shirt to the front and pointed at the black substance. “ This is what is called dirty. Idiot.”

Tobio instantly regretted calling the prince an idiot. To be fair, he never had much social interaction, always holing up beside his grandfather in this forge. Surprisingly, the prince didn’t grant him his death, or anything that dramatic or horrid alike. He simply bursted out a laugh - a clear and sweet and satisfying ring like the sound of a new sword unsheathing for the first time, glinting under the sun in all of its glory.

The prince’s laugh was unforgettable, to Tobio at least. 

The prince stood up from the staircase and looked down at Tobio, sticking his hands to his waist. The sun on his shoulder and fire in his hair. “What’s your name?”

Almost hypnotised, Tobio replied, “Kageyama Tobio.”

“I’m Hinata Shouyou.” The prince pounded a palm on his chest, jutting his chin out proudly.

“I know.” 

“You’re supposed to act surprised! Like gwah, no way, Hinata Shouyou, the most benevolent prince of all lands? Not I know. That’s boring, no one likes a know-it-all.”

“Oh.” Tobio nodded, repeating in a monotonous voice. “Gwah, no way, Hinata Shouyou, the most benevolent prince of all lands.”

The prince groaned. Still, his smile stretched further as he swatted down on Tobio’s eye level, beaming. “Except for me. I like you, Kageyama Tobio.”

 

 

So Tobio holds on to that I like you through it all. Through the sleepless nights in his old room remembering the prince’s smile. Through the dreadful classes on royal etiquettes and mannerisms before the engagement. Through the drought of their marriage that consists of Tobio spending most of his day inside the forge and the prince out on the field or in his class. 

Tobio should be happy marrying his prince, marrying the person he’s been longing for. He knows that he should, but somewhere along the lines of an empty bed and quiet dinners, the fire between them has been snuffed out.

Tobio knows the reason why: he is the reason why. And the prince’s been generous enough to allow him to behave the way he wishes. 

Admittedly, Tobio has been acting cold and distant toward his spouse, keeping him at arm’s length. Only dares to smooth over the dark eye bags and press his lips on the red hair at night when the prince is deep asleep. Only dares to look at his prince under the mellow moonshine with his bottled up emotions spilling, and murmur the name Shouyou over and over when no one is awake to hear him. 

He’s terrified to cross the boundaries he’s set for himself, to get lost in the growing and irretrievable feelings he has developed for the prince over the years. Because he knows

He knows that despite being a bastard son, despite some people calling him dirty due to his mother’s origin, the prince is still of the royal bloodline, and still has the right to the crown. He sees the prince try, day and night, to earn what is rightfully his: the support of his people, the acceptance from his family, and the respect of foreign diplomats. 

Tobio knows his prince, and he knows that Hinata Shouyou will make a goddamn great king someday. Unfortunately, he also knows that there is no place for him in this future, a clumsy male consort that would be deemed unfit for a king. He is a mere commoner, a blacksmith who doesn’t go beyond the territory of his forge and the swords that he makes. 

Tobio knows all that, the thorns and needles hidden under the silk and plush sheets of their union. He would be fine, really, leaving his prince’s side eventually after a more suitable noble show up and takes his place, a more refined piece of jewelry sitting beside the raw gold that is Hinata Shouyou. Tobio would be fine, he loves his prince enough to be fine, and because he would not leave the castle empty-handed. He would still have the memory of his prince’s warm skin, his velvety lips, his bright smile beaming at Tobio in kind, in pride, and in beauty. 

His prince has always been beautiful. That is probably the first thing Tobio knows. 

Tobio remembers a year ago, after yet another draining etiquette class before the wedding, he dragged his tired feet out on the field for some fresh air, away from the pungent smell of various flowers spreading across the room where he was a few minutes ago. That was when Tobio saw it, his soon-to-be spouse in the most glamourous and brilliant form that is too hard for him to pretend to ignore.

It was one of the prince’s archery classes. The prince hunched down slightly on horseback while he picked out an arrow from the quiver on his left hip and fit it in the dark oak bow. In one smooth motion, his posture ratcheted up straight with the arrow stretching along the horizontal line of his torso, bowstring forcefully pulled back. It creaked, a roaring power threatening to run loose, but the prince’s clutch riveted to the grip successfully restrained it, keeping everything under control with ease. 

Within mere seconds, the prince’s small body elongated, short sleeves scrunching up from the tension and cloth wrist wraps stretching. His firm muscles during the end of his teenage years rippled and flexed under the scorching sun, full of strength and flexibility. 

Tobio watched, in amazement, as the end of the arrow stayed between the prince’s fingers, white feather tickling the sun-kissed cheek that had become tanner compared to when they first met, less of the chubbiness and more of the defined lines, golden freckles dotting across his face. The prince waited in silence while his muscles bulged, the bowstring biting his palm. 

For once, he wasn’t rushing, wasn’t jumping all over the place like he always would around Tobio. He was quiet, focused, like a patient predator watching its innocent prey, assessing and calculating everything required for a perfect shot in mere seconds, the distance, the wind, the direction. 

Tobio found himself holding his breath too, witnessing the silent bellowing and displaying of power and wit and control that Hinata Shouyou possessed. The prince expels a short breath from his mouth, amber eyes remaining sharp on the target without a wavering second. 

Pak.

The arrow left the bow, splitting through the air with a shriek and piercing the red center of the target. Cheers from the servants erupted around him, praises bouncing around for that one hell of a performance, but the prince paid them no mind. He threw the bow toward his assistant and veered the horse around, legs squeezing on the horse’s sides to move closer to Tobio. The prince smiled triumphantly as he looked at him, the sheer pride of a champion, the utmost challenge for him to keep up with, the full force of a hurricane coming Tobio’s way.

Tobio recalled the tale of a phoenix his grandfather told him more than twice. A bird that rises from the ash to be reborn, stronger than ever, glorious with the vigor of immortal flames, invincible. Now, the prince seemed a lot like a phoenix, waiting in the ash for the right time to fly above others, to spread his wings so widely that they would cover the sun. He demanded eyes, astonishment, recognition, after staying in the dark for so long.  

The prince can, he will, become so much more with the right push, the right assistant, the right sword

“Quite a performance, don’t you think?” The prince quipped, still perched on the horse’s back and looking down at Tobio, similar to the first day they met. The sun on his shoulder and fire in his hair. 

“You can fly even higher.” Tobio said absently, his mind remaining trapped in a trance. 

The prince didn’t reply to that, only arching an eyebrow and staring intently at Tobio. Then, he scooted to the front of the saddle and reached a hand down at Tobio. “Let’s go for a ride.”

Tobio didn’t hesitate for a second. He gripped the prince’s hand and hooked his foot on the stirrup to haul himself up and settle on the seat behind him. He slid his arms past the prince’s sides to hold the leather reins and squeeze the horse’s ribcage to cue it to move. The prince gave him a look from his peripheral vision and a smirk before leaning back to his chest, allowing Tobio to take control. 

They started slowly, but along the oak trees, the yellow leaves carpeting the way, and the crisp of the air, Tobio urged the horse to go faster. Chill winds struck across his face, whizzing through his ears and frosting his nose. It wasn’t uncomfortable; if anything, it only spiked the exhilaration during the ride as he watched the purple horizon split open, white clouds whisking above and the prince in his chest, warmer than ever. 

For a short-lived second, Tobio thought about what could help the prince soar; and he pondered, sinfully, if he could be that force, if they could be a team, winning it all, becoming invincible, together.

Maybe, his phoenix didn’t need to fly alone.

The journey stopped as they reached a headland. Deep blue sea rumbled below and the sun set behind the mountain range afar. Streaks of translucent clouds crowned the green ridges, swirling low and tucking away a nameless kingdom. Stripes of pastel pink and purple soaked through the blue sky canvas, blending colors, spreading beauty and radiance across the opalescent tapestry of raw nature. 

However, Tobio did not pay any mind to such wonders. 

All of his attention was on the person in front of him, on his arms wrapping around the dainty waist, and was on his own lips that were nuzzling deep into the red hair. Tobio was in awe, actually, at the fact that Hinata Shouyou, this man who sailed beyond the sea of gems ahead, would very soon become— his.  

“It’s beautiful.” The prince said, eyes training on the endless horizon shimmering in the last sunlight. 

Tobio pulled back slightly and looked at the side of his face, at the iridescent lights reflecting on his skin and the vibrant colors dancing in his eyes. He muttered, “Yeah, it is.”

The prince turned around and met his gaze before Tobio had the chance to look away. His smile deepened, softer, but firm, similar to the delicate feathers on his unyielding arrow. He asked, “Kageyama Tobio, will you marry me?”

Tobio’s eyes widened, his heart hammering. 

“The union has been decided, isn’t it redundant—”

“Will you marry me?” The prince repeated, stubborn and spoiled and endearing. Then, his voice quieted down, shadow shielding half of his face, making something inside Tobio ache. “I want to hear you say it yourself and not because of some stupid order, so— are you willing to stay by my side, forever?”

Not simply a marriage, but a promise to remain together, for as long as their lives go. 

“I will.” Tobio said after a hitch of his breath. “Forever.”

That was the day Tobio learned how warm, soft, and perfect the prince’s lips were; how two hearts could beat in the same rhythm. 

That was also the day he understood the forever between a prince and a commoner wouldn’t last long with the talks behind their backs and the crown becoming harder to gain.

His prince can fly higher. He will, and Tobio would do anything in his power to assist him, even if it means that he ought to betray the promise to stay by his side forever. The journey is long, and Tobio would be fine. He would be fine standing from afar, watching his phoenix rise from the ashes, reveling in the sheer fire and the power of his wings reigning from above. 

 

 

Tobio places his glass down on the table with a short clink that dissipates in the laughter and chatter within the ballroom that won’t be ending anytime soon. The duty of a consort is to remain by his prince’s side until the end of the event, but the prince is kind enough to let Tobio leave whenever he pleases, knowing that he doesn’t like such a tedious activity. So Tobio leaves, steps fumblingly squeezing across the dense crowd, peripheral vision lingering at the sight of a more suited noble chatting up his prince. 

The way around the castle is too intricate for Tobio to remember although he’s been here for a year. Luckily, the path to the prince’s personal study isn’t difficult to learn, considering how Tobio had accompanied him to this room more than a few times, reading near his desk in silence before the prince dozed off and Tobio carried him back to the chamber. 

That was prior to when their marriage took a turn and when the king started to see his prince for who he was - a fine candidate for the crown. Now, Tobio rarely ever comes here anymore, nor does the prince force him to do so.

With a creak of the door, Tobio walks inside the study. Everything remains the same from his memory, pillows disheveled on the sofa, books splayed open on the table, notes littered the floor that no servants dare to sweep away (it’s used to be Tobio’s job to clean after him, knowing that the prince can’t get mad at him). 

One thing does change, however, is a sword hanging on the wall, in the most central position of the room. 

It’s the weapon Tobio forged for his prince a while back. A slightly curved blade that is a smidge shorter and thinner than normal, taking a part of the usual weight off and increasing the speed of the wielder when charging. The prince is fast, incredibly so, but normal royal swords tend to hamper his precision and add pressure to his arm. Thus, after research and observation, Tobio discarded the standards and tailored the weapon for his prince, the one that would unleash his potential, the one that would help him fly. 

 

 

“You made this?” The prince asked as he gripped on the blue-wrapped hilt, tilting the blade in the air, dim light of the forge glinting off the sharp edge. 

Looking at the prince’s bright eyes reflecting on the pristine blade, Tobio nodded. “I did.”

“For me?”

“Yes.” 

“A special sword, one of a kind?”

“Yes.”

“Just for your prince, and no one else?”

“Of course. How many times do I have to tell you, idiot—” Tobio grumbled, his nerves taking over when the prince only peered at the sword and asked useless questions, not a trace of sentiment shown. He exhaled and lowered his eyes, slumping down on the edge of the table. “Sorry, Your Highness.”

Tobio heard a smooth hiss of the sword sliding inside the cover, footsteps approaching, and oddly, both of their heaving breaths. Without saying anything, the prince reached for a clean cloth, dampened it and gingerly, started wiping off the black grease and sweat clinging on Tobio’s bare torso. “Don’t be sorry.” The prince sighed, putting Tobio’s movement to stop him to a halt.

Tobio shivered for a second under the warm touch, murmuring. “Do you like it?”

“No one has ever done anything like this for me before.” The prince choked out, his fist clenching the cloth and resting on Tobio’s left chest. “Just for me.”

“Just for you. No one else.” Tobio nodded and enveloped his palm around the prince’s hand, anchoring it on his chest, right above his heart. The prince jolted up, glossy eyes meeting his own as Tobio whispered. “Do you like it?”

Time seemed to freeze, the crackles of fire in the hearth subsiding for the pleading tunes of their hearts to take over. Slowly, yet surely, the prince said. “I love it, Tobio.”

The rest burnt up in flames. The fire emerged low at first, swirling and simmering between lips finding each other, questioning and answering in desperate attempts again and again. The royal shirt was slowly unbuttoned, soft back pressed down on the coarse table. Tobio planted kisses after kisses on the torso underneath hazily, lastingly, until he gasped against the prince’s bare skin at a harsh grind of their bulges and pulled back. 

He looked down at the sight under, shivering. Red hair spread on the table of Tobio’s forge, ready for him; amber eyes waited, wanting him the same way that he wanted his prince. 

It was impossible to describe how Tobio was feeling at that point. For the first time, in the confined space of the dim and personal forge, the prince was his, and his alone, no titles or ranks or orders in between. He was simply Hinata Shouyou, the kid whom Tobio met years ago, the person whom he had learned to adore and resent at the same time, in his own way. 

His spouse was vulnerable, shaking slightly with tears on his eyelashes, less because of the first time they did this, more because of the first time Tobio was open enough for him to touch, to kiss, to cherish. For the first time, they met in a naked state of emotions, utterly honest without the need for words. 

Tobio wanted to keep the flame the way it was, languid and slow to taste every inch of the soft skin beneath, but his prince, arrogant and demanding on the spur of the moment, wished otherwise. He wanted Tobio to be faster, deeper, to break him apart and mend him, over and over again. 

So Tobio heeded his order, because it was the only way Tobio knew how, because his wish was Tobio’s command. And Tobio obeyed him so well, holding him by the hips and rocking deep inside as the table shook and moaned along with them. He relished the prince’s blown and dilated pupils, the slack mouth with helpless whimpers tumbling out, and the tired grip on Tobio’s biceps as he’d gone limp from the force. 

It wasn’t like anything Tobio had seen before, his cheeky and bright prince was now a crying mess, exposed and unguarded, composure crumbling every time Tobio thrusted in. Yet, he kept demanding more as though this was the last night he could have his fill of Tobio, despite being his spouse, despite their marriage. 

Tobio’s stomach twisted into a knot at the prince’s desperate pleas of Tobio, repeatedly, insistently. He squeezed their bodies tight together and shot deep inside his prince with a low sob, owning him, whispering the name Shouyou for the first time. That was enough for the prince to come undone. 

The prince was right in some aspects. It was the first and last time they had ever done anything like that, so intimate and open, before Tobio learned to close off and the prince learned to distance himself because of that decision. 

 

 

Tobio clasps his hands behind his lower back and traces his eyes across the sword, the only object that is free of dust in this messy room. He thinks about a lot of things, such as where to build his forge when he finally leaves the castle; or what weapons he could make, or even silverware, for them to be selected and imported into the royal mansions. A bit greedy, Tobio knows. But at least then, Tobio could make the deliveries himself and see his prince again, with his own eyes rather than the print on local newspapers like everyone else.

A short creak of the door behind startles Tobio. He whips his head back and sees the prince’s personal maid peeking in, exhaling out of relief. “Young Master, you’re here.”

Tobio nods at Yachi. “Is there a problem?”

“His Highness—” Yachi trails off for a second, clutching her apron. “He just got back, and he’s looking for you.”

“Already?” Tobio frowns. Royal events last until late, and the royal offspring are required to be there the entire time. It’s odd to see his prince leave this early when it’s only past 9.

“Yes. He’s at the bathhouse.” Yachi says, voice lowering as she continues. “Making a mess.”

“Is he drunk?”

“Very.” 

Tobio sighs, steps already sprinting off to the direction of their chamber. He knows how difficult his prince can be when he’s drunk, which mercifully, isn’t often. Tobio soon reaches the room that is adjacent to the bedchamber, fingers pushing in the door which has been muffling the prince’s yelling at his servants surrounding the bath, asking where Tobio is and threatening to enslave them (which he can’t, considering they’re already ones) if they can’t find his spouse. Shoes squeaking on the wet floor, Tobio tilts his head at them, and they clear off the room in a matter of seconds, shutting the door as they exit.

The prince’s tantrum halts as soon as he sees Tobio. He huffs like a kid, turning aside and submerging from his lips down underwater. Without a word, Tobio takes off his jacket and boots, rolling his sleeves up and walking toward the bath. He picks up the sponge on the table, but before he could touch the familiar red skin, the prince grips his wrist, focused eyes staring at him. If it hadn’t been for the alcohol scent lingering, he would have thought that the prince wasn’t drunk at all. 

“Husband.” The prince states.

Tobio’s breath hitches. The prince only calls Tobio as such to tease him when they first get married, watching a tiny blush tinting Tobio’s ears. But now, the word isn’t said between them anymore, and in all honesty, Tobio has missed it. So much. 

“You’re drunk.” Tobio avoids the topic.

Husband. ” The prince insists again, as though he wants Tobio to confirm something.

Tobio sighs. “I am.”

“Husbands.”

“We are.”

“Oh.” The prince makes a short noise, arms dropping underwater, body going boneless, and the top of his head leaning on Tobio’ shoulder. Tobio wets the sponge and starts scrubbing his back, deciding that he won’t fight a drunk person, but after only 2 strokes, the prince mutters, his voice is simply— broken.

“Then, why are you so cold to me?” 

Something knocks all the air out of Tobio’s lungs, something sour and bitter. A few seconds pass, and Tobio is still holding the sponge in the air, yet to offer an answer to his question. 

It’s not because he doesn’t know it. It’s because he does and he can’t say it out loud, saying that he’ll have to leave one day. 

It feels cruel to his prince.

The prince doesn’t seem to want to hear the answer anyway. He takes the sponge off Tobio’s hand and scoots further away to the other end of the bathtub, head tipping down. He says with a clear voice, void of any traces of wine. “You should go to bed, it’s late.”

“But your bath—”

“I can handle myself, Kageyama.”

Tobio swallows at the name, jaw clenching. He tries again. “Let me do this for you.”

“You never have to do anything for me. I— I’m not your duty, and you don’t have to take care of me, not anymore.” The prince mutters and turns his back to him. “I’ll be fine. Just go.”

Somehow, it doesn’t seem like the prince is telling him to go back to their bedchamber anymore. Somehow, it means so much more. 

 

 

*

 

 

The bed creaks with weight as the prince lays next to Tobio in the dark room, and Tobio doesn’t need to turn around to know that the prince is lying with his back down, hands clasping on his stomach. It’s a standard position for royal members to sleep, although his prince would always wake up curling deep inside Tobio’s chest, drool smearing all over his nightclothes. 

Tobio is the cause of that, secretly dragging the prince close every night, but he tells the prince that he has really horrible sleeping habits, and the other just nods after a short grump. 

Another thing Tobio does pick up is how quickly the prince falls asleep after going to bed. A minute, perhaps, and the prince’s breathing is already even, but today is different. Despite the alcohol and the fatigue from social events, he’s awake, refusing to sleep. Tobio knows so.

Then, as a surrender to his stubbornness and probably some sentiments from the lateness of the night, Tobio turns around, inches closer, and hauls the prince into his chest, pressing close. The other immediately breathes out and clutches on his clothes, starved and fearful, almost, that Tobio would let him go. 

“Can you call me Shouyou?” The prince demands suddenly. “Just once.”

Tobio exhales shortly. He nuzzles deep into the unruly red wisps, and mutters. “Shouyou.”

His pri— Shouyou hums, a shattered noise. “Thank you.” He says, like his final wish was just granted by Tobio. “And I’m sorry.”

“What for?”

“For getting you into this mess.” Shouyou breathes against his chest. “I know you don’t like big castles, or those unnecessary etiquette classes on which spoons and forks to use, or the social events that you’re forced to go to.” 

He pauses, voice shaking, then. “I know you prefer a free life— just you and your forge. I thought giving you one in the castle would be enough, but I guess it wasn’t, neither was it a fair excuse to cage you here. And I know— if it hadn’t been for the Queen’s order, you would never have the intention to marry me, a bastard son who couldn’t give you much. And I’m sorry—”

“Don’t be.” That’s all Tobio could gather after the ache burning inside him along with every word Shouyou says. 

The prince is a fool. He doesn’t know anything, doesn’t know the hope Tobio had when he knew the prince must marry a commoner, doesn’t know the ecstasy bursting inside him when he was chosen to be Shouyou’s other half. 

However, Tobio is never good with words, so he only tugs the prince closer, hoping that he will understand. “It was enough. You are enough, for me. So don’t ever say that, please.”

Clearly, Shouyou doesn’t.

He continues. “If you wish to leave the castle, then— let’s end our marriage. I’ll talk to Father to let you go. There must be a way to break the union without tainting your reputation. We can say that I’m too arrogant, that I don’t want a male consort—”

“Stop. Stop. ” Tobio grounds out, words rolling out so bitterly at the tip of his tongue that he can barely taste anything else. He lets go of Shouyou and sits up, legs crossing, head tipping down with hand ruffling through his hair. After a beat, he looks at the prince lying silently in the dark and says. “I don’t want to leave.”

Shouyou jolts up almost in an instant, gleaming eyes widening at Tobio. “You don’t?”

“I’ve thought about leaving the castle, eventually. But I never wish to leave you.”

“Why did you think about it, if— if—”

Tobio expels out of his lips a sharp breath, and finally, falls apart. “Because I’m a commoner, Your Highness.”

“You’re not a commoner. You’re my husband.” Shouyou says as he inches closer and presses his forehead against Tobio, warm palm holding Tobio’s cheek. “And I’m yours.” 

“Don’t say that.” Tobio pleads.

“Why? It’s true.”

In names, it’s true. In reality, Tobio knows it’s much more than just artificial titles. Rankings and social classes, no matter how much they try to deny it, will always matter, especially for a future King. 

Tobio mutters. “I might be yours, your people, your subject, but you’ll never be mine alone.”

“But I am, Tobio.” The prince says, desperate. “Have always been.”

“Show me.”

Maybe what Tobio needs is a little more convincing, assuring; and Shouyou is willing to give him just that, or anything he wants. 

So the prince lays him down on the plush sheets, small yet stocky body sliding between Tobio’s legs and hovering on top of him. His elbows sink down the mattress on the sides of Tobio’s head, more nervous facing his own husband than dealing with sly diplomats and spiteful siblings. 

Tobio lays there, simply, watching his prince in awe, the way his red hair spikes everywhere, heat running across the freckle lines of his face. Amber eyes, which are sharp on the field with his sword and confident during conversations with the King, turn hazy, vulnerable, honest, just like that day in Tobio’s forge. 

“You’re nervous.” Tobio states absently.

“I am.” Shouyou nods. “Always in front of you.” After a short pause to link their foreheads together, he breathes against Tobio’s lips. “Can I kiss you?”

Please.

The prince doesn’t need to be told twice. Puffs of air from trembling breaths at the stillness of the evening soon disappear between their warm lips, a clash of countless cold nights going to sleep separately and the burning memory of their bodies pressing tight in the forge many months ago. Tobio pulls Shouyou’s nape down and deepens the kiss, tugging at the plump bottom lip, wondering how stupid he was to not kiss his prince every day, to miss out on the most perfect dish there is, better than any royal feast. 

The prince seems to get himself lost in such ferocity of the touch too, tilting his head from side to side, drinking in the sound of their soft moans. His tongue swirled in circles around Tobio’s to taste more of him, to make up for the time that they’ve lost. Tobio can feel Shouyou’s waist tremble in his hand for a second before dropping down, grinding against his bulge, and Tobio gasps into his mouth. 

Shouyou breaks away, face dripping with crimson. “I was— I was supposed to show you.”

“Oh. Sorry, I got carried away.” Tobio says breathlessly. His hands fall from Shouyou’s body to splay on the sheets, grounding himself down from wanting his prince more. “Go on.”

Somehow, Shouyou’s nerves disappear as he looks at Tobio spreading his limbs on the bed like a starfish. He turns giddy almost, smile stretching wide and eyes glinting off moon dust, and Tobio tries

He tries extremely hard to not push the prince down on the mattress and wreck him, especially when he’s taking an awfully long time to unbutton Tobio’s blouse. 

Peering down at the slender fingers that are definitely not used to dressing himself, Tobio offers kindly. “Do you need my help?”

“I can do this,” the prince declares, although his struggle with the button's situation says otherwise. “Let me do this for you, Tobio.”

Tobio hums, fond and sweet. “You better hurry. One more minute and I’ll turn 100.”

“Shut up.” Shouyou grumbles, and after what seems to be a million years to Tobio, Shouyou reaches the last button and discards his shirt quickly as though it’s his biggest enemy for tonight. “Finally! Stupid shirt. From now on, you’re going to bed naked, prince’s order.”

Tobio doesn’t reply to his tantrum, he simply reaches up a hand and holds Shouyou’s cheek, watching him, remembering him, wondering if he could ever love this person more than he is right now. 

He doesn’t need to ponder for long, though. Shouyou leans into the touch with a soft sigh, wrapping his hand around the back of Tobio’s palm and leaving small kisses on it, tiny traces of adoration and appreciation on every one of Tobio’s calluses and crooked curves. 

“I love your hand.” Shouyou mutters against Tobio’s palm, breaths burning, making Tobio’s stomach jolt.

“Do you?”

“So much.” Shouyou hums with closed eyes. Then, his lips trail from the tip of Tobio’s fingers to his inner wrist, along the veins of his forearm to the muscles of his biceps flexing under the intensity of such a delicate touch. 

Shouyou moves gently, naturally, leaving kisses on Tobio’s skin as he goes, so tender that they burn up words in Tobio’s throat. The prince exhales. “This is the hand that wrapped around me when we went for that ride. The hand that forged me a sword, one of a kind, just for me and no one else. The hand that touches me, massages me, and holds me, every night.”

Tobio’s eyes are wide. He blind-sidedly chokes out, “You knew?”

“Of course.” Shouyou insists, placing Tobio’s hand on his back and leaning close to his lips. “How could I not, Tobio? You’re always so gentle, so warm. No one has ever treated me like an equal, has done their best to assist me, has touched me, like you, and it was— everything that I’ve ever wanted. You are everything I’ve ever needed.

It’s unfair, really, for Shouyou to know exactly what Tobio wishes to hear, to break him apart and piece him back together with just his words alone, to make Tobio feel like he could soar to the sky along with the prince, merging into a force of reigning fire, invincible, together. 

“Then take it. Anything you need.”

“Only you, nothing else.” Shouyou says.

“Only me.” Tobio repeats.

Shouyou sighs and finds his lips again, slower and softer this time as though he could do this for as long as time goes, lazily grazing on Tobio’s lips and allowing the intimacy between them to simmer in bliss. Tobio, however, has other plans rather than idly kissing till the sun dawns on them. He sinks Shouyou deep in the mattress and discards any clothes that are in their way so that their skin can flush against each other, feeling each other's body heat, the raw pulsing of their veins and the same rhythm of their hearts. 

Tobio has missed this. He’s only done it once, but he has yearned for this, every night when he’s close to Shouyou, looking at him sleeping and wishing it could be more. Now, finally, his wish is fulfilled as he traces his lips along the muscle lines of Shouyou’s torso, marking him, owning him, hearing him make shuddering and high-pitched and needy noises for Tobio alone, not any other nobles or high-ranking people. 

It only makes him hungrier, to ruin his prince, to make Shouyou go senseless with the only thing he can think about is Tobio. 

His lips move lower and lower along the trail of moonlight spilled on Shouyou’s skin, kissing him so delicately as if he’s worshipping, as if Shouyou is the only prayer he needs. His hands follow suit to tease and rile Shouyou up, from the heaving chest to the fluttering stomach to the flush red cock. 

Tobio swallows him whole, drinking in the sight of his prince falling apart from his touch. Shouyou lifts his hips from the bed and buckles forward in a desperate attempt for more, mouth hanging open with sharp breaths, and fingers carding in his hair.

“Tobio, more— hurry. Need you more—” Shouyou spits out orders in his little prince voice, back arching up into a pliant curve and legs shaking around Tobio’s head, sweat collecting on his inner thighs amidst the chill autumn night. Tobio gives him a short suck and Shouyou throws his head back, toes curling, crying out. “Husband, please .”

That was it. Tobio gives up on the teasing to help Shouyou finish, and without waiting any longer or letting Shouyou recover from trembling in his high, Tobio flips him around with face deep in the pillow, hoisting his hips up in the air, and marking his back too, fast, urgent. 

It’s a challenging task, Tobio has to admit, preparing his prince while keeping a cool head as the person beneath does not offer a smidge of help by calling out Tobio and fuck me please again and again, mindless and desperate for Tobio, unaware of the pain he might endure.

Maybe, Shouyou does know it, because the moment Tobio sinks in and breaks him apart, his prince, the one who is used to fine silk and delicate hands and plush sheets, sighs out of contentment and swivels his hips around Tobio, a silent plea for Tobio to do as he wishes, to take everything he needs and as much as he wants. 

And so, Tobio does. He grips on the slim waist until his knuckles turn white and rocks deep inside Shouyou. The fluid and soft touches turn into the momentum that can leave bruises and red blotches on his ass, thrust after thrust with a force that fills the room with sinful and wet sounds, with Tobio’s low grunts and Shouyou’s loud sobs. 

“Tobio— I’ve wanted this— you— in me, good for me— every night.” Shouyou moans, words stuttering along with Tobio’s rhythm and the bed’s rattling. “Do you— do you also—”

“I do. God, I do.” Tobio gasps against Shouyou’s ear. “Every night— I’ve wanted nothing more than to show you how much I want you, need you— love you.”

Shouyou writhes, like the words are too much for him to bear, and cries. “Say it again, please— husband .”

Tobio slides a hand across Shouyou’s stomach and pulls him closer, back flushed against Tobio’s chest and fingers clasping. He traces his lips along the shell of Shouyou’s ears and whispers. “I love you, my prince— my Shouyou.”

Shouyou is gone within seconds, spilling for the second time as he replies with the same I love you that pushes Tobio off the edge. They share a messy kiss, biting and tugging mostly when the high still shakes them to their cores, along with the hidden confession that has now been uncovered, no more lies and doubts; just honesty and vulnerability. 

Tobio loves this more, so much more, and he knows Shouyou must do too. 

Dutifully, Tobio cleans up after his prince and changes the soiled sheets as Shouyou clings onto his back, refusing to touch the cold ground (not that Tobio would ever let him do so anyway). They roll back into the downy pillows and soft wool with open touches and warm embraces, bodies close without a gap in between. Tobio massages Shouyou’s back and cards his fingers into the red wisps as usual, only this time, he doesn’t have to hide them anymore. This time, he can hear Shouyou’s content hums and little whispers of love you here and there between absent kisses on his chest. 

This time, it’s enough.

“Can I ask you something?” Tobio says suddenly.

Shouyou makes a sleepy sound as a response. 

“Will you marry me, Shouyou?”

“What?” Shouyou exclaims, pulling back to look at Tobio.

Tobio swallows the heaviness of his tongue, feeling his face burning. “I— it’s just that I’ve never got the chance to say it— and it feels unfair, to me, and to you.”

“If you propose again just so you could win against me, your prince will grant you death,” Shouyou grumbles.

“It’s not just because of that, idiot—”

“So you did mean to win—”

“Shut up for a second,” Tobio huffs, and Shouyou pouts, bottom lip jutting out. Tobio stares, maybe he’ll kiss it too, and he does. Instantly, the fire on top of Shouyou’s head is extinguished. “It’s— my proposal to you, asking you to marry me. Bound you, not as a prince, but as someone I love, to me, someone you love.”

“Oh,” Shouyou utters, blinking at him for a few seconds.

Tobio gulps, lowering his eyes to avoid the intent and quiet stare. “So— will you take my hand, for the rest of your life?”

“Even if I’m prince, or king?”

“Even so.”

“And you won’t change your mind either?”

“Never.”

The prince hums, and Tobio feels like his head is going to explode from the embarrassment. 

“You need to try harder to win, Tobio.” Shouyou says, and Tobio looks at him, flabbergasted. The prince stretches his voice. “I mean, when I proposed to you, there were oceans and clouds and mountains and sunset. And you proposed to me at 2 in the morning after sex when we’re both naked—”

“You’re so stupid.” Tobio growls and pounces on the prince, pinning him down on the bed and kissing him, deep, to which Shouyou only fights back with small giggles and arms wrapping around Tobio’s neck. 

The attack simmers down to long kisses, gentle and intimate the same. They break away, eyes closed, foreheads touching. Shouyou whispers, “Of course I’ll marry you, no matter how many times there are.”

“Good.” Tobio smiles. “Cause I’m already yours, no matter what your answer is.”

“And I’m yours too, always.”

 

 

*

 

 

“Why are you reading history books, dumbass?” Kageyama asks after a gulp of his milk, looking at the book splayed open on Hinata’s desk and red hair bouncing as he flits his eyes quickly across the page.

“Because, unlike you, Kageyama-kun, I’m not a brute who flunked his history exam and came here being bitter about it.” Hinata says and arches an eyebrow, and Kageyama gives him a well-deserved smack on the head, so loud that it echoes the half-empty classroom. 

“I didn’t flunk it.”

“Oh yeah? Then tell me what happened in the 1350s?”

“Stuff happened.”

“This is why you flunk— stop hitting me! Listen to your Hinata-sensei here. It’s the most prosperous era under the ruling of King Hinata along with his most trusted advisor, who was also his spouse, a commoner from a blacksmith family. It said besides the King’s wit and skills, the sword the blacksmith forged for him was so fierce that he rose above all challengers, earning his right to the throne despite being the illegitimate blood, then, was later labeled as The Phoenix rising from the ashes !”

“And that concerns me because?” 

“Becauseee, did you also know that the King’s husband is from the Kageyama family? This is too much of a coincidence, don’t you think?”

“No, you’re just stupid— now c’mon, Interhigh is coming, gotta practice.”

Steps thump out of the classroom and disappear in the busy hallway, fingers lacing with blushes spreading along their skin. Winds at noon rush in from the window, brushing at the book forgotten on the table, flipping the pages to a fuzzy drawing of two people sitting side by side. 

One with red curls, as bright as phoenix fire. One with black strands, as dark as night ash.